May 20, 2006

Burnaby Business Excellence Awards 2006

I am sitting on the nominations committee for the Burnaby Board of Trade Business Excellence Awards 2006. We are working to come up with a list of businesses that deserve to be in the running for an award this year, and encourage people to nominate them. The awards are not only for companies, but also for non-profits. I am president of the board of the Stream of Dreams Murals Society that won the Community Service award in 2004, and other community groups have also been honoured.

Please contact the board of trade at the link above if you have any ideas about Burnaby based companies and groups that you feel would be deserving of an award.

The categories and last year's winners are: Burnaby Spirit: Burnaby Edmonds Lions Club; Community Service: Burnaby Metrotown Rotary Club; Business Innovation: iv Cosmeceuticals; Entrepreneurial Spirit: Origami by Yu & Mi; Newsmaker of the Year: SFU Community Trust -- UniverCity; Business Person of the Year: Brad Alden, Burnaby Now; Business of the Year (Small Business): Beaver Electrical Machinery; Business of the Year: Bosa Properties; Hall of Fame: The Morrey Auto Group.

Posted by Paul at 10:15 PM

May 19, 2006

Turtle Scarfs Cat's Food

Midori, our red-eared slider, got up to some shenanigans tonight, stealing Choco the cat's food. I'd baked a small pink salmon for supper, and had offered Choco some as a treat. Choco is not much of a people-food cat, and has never begged at the table, but she did appreciate a bit of fish. I gave her seconds, but she left them in her bowl.

Awhile later I went down to the garage to organize some furniture that we're storing. Choco decided to accompany me, and I enjoyed watching her explore the new garage configuration. It's always fun watching cats check out changed surroundings as they poke and prod, eye distances, try new jumps, and twine themselves around obstacles. I could hear 'Dori moving around on the floor above us, but didn't give it much thought as she's been pretty antsy and mobile lately as her egg-laying season approaches.

Choco and I spent some time sitting in the car, as we're trying to get her more accustomed to driving without freaking out. She was initially nervous, but eventually checked out all the nooks and crannies before stretching out on the back seat. Satisfied that she'd done some positive acclimatizing, I gathered her up and we went back upstairs.

As we entered the kitchen, I noticed that the salmon in Choco's dish had been disturbed. Looking around, I saw bits of fish strewn about the floor. Suddenly 'Dori came motoring into the kitchen. I hadn't heard her charging across the living-room carpet, but her claws clashed on the kitchen lino as she flailed toward me with a chunk of salmon stuck to her chin.

Poor turtle! The fish had driven her to distraction, but being a water turtle, she'd been having a heck of a time swallowing it on dry land. We'd had her on a turtle-food only diet for some time, because she tends to get a bit crazy on fresh food.

Taking pitty on her, I picked her up with one hand and gathered up some of the shredded salmon with the other. Taking her back to her tank, I carefully fed her chunks of fish as she gobbled them down in a frenzy.

Choco and I have retreated to my basement office as 'Dori pounds the floor above. I fear we have awoken the beast...

Posted by Paul at 07:25 PM

May 17, 2006

Evil Handyman God Smites Me

There is an evil handyman god that lurks on the fringes of do-it-yourself projects, waiting to pounce and mete out pain to the unwise and unwary. He strikes for various reasons. Haste and using the wrong tool for the job are common sins he watches for. Today he dealt me a swollen, purple, pounding fingertip for the temerity of giving advice and not heeding it myself.

Yumi and I were putting together a large, heavy cabinet, and as we assembled the larger pieces, carefully guiding them into place, I told her to watch her fingers. Less than a minute after those fateful words left my lips, I drove a drawer into its guides with a playful hip check, smashing a guiding finger with the lip. Yee-haa!

Much colorful language and dancing ensued. Watch your own damn fingers!

Posted by Paul at 10:32 PM

May 15, 2006

The Saving of the Shrew

Yumi rescued a tiny shrew from the clutches of one of the neighborhood cats today. We had just returned home from helping some schoolchildren release chum salmon fry in Byrne Creek, and she stayed out to sweep the walk.

A few minutes later I heard pounding on the door, and there she stood, blood trickling from her hands as she cupped the shrew. The blood was Yumi's -- she'd torn a fingernail against the fence as she battled the cat for possession of the shrew.

I grabbed a plant container, poured some dirt into it, and placed the shrew in it, covering it with an old towel. After Yumi treated her finger, we took the shrew to the ravine behind our place and released it.

While we understand the cat is a cat, and does what comes naturally, we still think it's a shame for well-fed house cats to kill our dwindling urban birds and other beasties. We're still friends with the cat -- he likes to come calling on Choco, our strictly indoor cat -- but we had already found one dead shrew near our door yesterday, so we were happy to save one today.

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The shivering shrew just before Yumi released it.

Posted by Paul at 03:38 PM

May 10, 2006

Gladstone Secondary Kids Tour Byrne Creek

Yumi and I took a bunch of high school students from Gladstone Secondary in Vancouver on a tour of Burnaby's Byrne Creek today. It was a gorgeous day for a loop around the ravine, and while it's sometimes hard to tell with teenagers, I think they enjoyed rambling through the woods. Dunno if they enjoyed my blathering on about streamkeeping and urban biodiversity, but I did get a few questions :-). I like going out with kids and trying to get them to connect a little with nature.

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That's me on the right in a ball cap, waving a rolled up map, talking about the watershed.

Posted by Paul at 07:47 PM

May 09, 2006

Taylor Park Kids Release Coho in Byrne Creek

A couple of classes of kids from Taylor Park elementary school released coho smolts (yearlings) into Burnaby's Byrne Creek today. The DFO fish releases are always fun, and it's great watching the childrens' glowing faces as they let the fish go in the creek.

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A volunteer helps kids release fish.

Posted by Paul at 09:56 PM

May 07, 2006

Washington Aquarium

One of the places we really enjoyed in Washington was the aquarium, even though it's a dingy old place stuck in a basement and much in need of sprucing up. That didn't bother us, we loved the displays! Here are a few critters we saw.

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A wonderfully curious balloonfish.

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A strange axolotyl with foot-like appendages.

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A bold spiny lobster.

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A scary snapping turtle.

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A cheerful ray.

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A magnificent lion fish.

Posted by Paul at 06:57 PM

May 04, 2006

Privacy and Digitizing, Networking Health Care Records

The issue of digitizing and networking medical records has appeared in various panels at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference that I have been attending.

Here is some info on the Canadian initiative.

And here is a US patient privacy rights website on some of the privacy and security implications of what has been happening in the US.

This is something that very few people are aware of, particularly the security and privacy implications. Who gets to access such a database? How are those people authenticated? Can they download and save information to local computers? How are those computers secured? Can they print out information? Can I access my own information? How do I authenticate myself? If I think there are errors in my information, can I correct them? How? How are patients identified? Is there a common identifier across all of a person's records, or are there firewalls between various sorts of data? Can my dentist access what my gynecologist can access? Can insurance companies access that data? Can other branches of the government? The police? Are warrants required? Where is the data hosted? If it's in the US, other laws may apply, and the US government may be able to access that data secretly using anti-terrorist directives... It goes on and on.

One panelist said hey, forget it, the insurance companies already know all this stuff about all of us....

Posted by Paul at 11:14 AM

Spychips: Laying the Ground for Pervasive Computer Surveillance

Katherine Albrecht from CASPIAN, or Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, spoke on the potential negative privacy and security impact of RFID tagging at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference. Albrecht has written Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID, and there is a Spychips website.

Good info on RFID technology. Companies are experimenting with RFID tags in clothing and in indvidual items that you might buy. The problem is many of these initiatives are secret and consumers are not being told what the technology does.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation represented the other side of the debate. He said that the debate is all about whether we are for progress and optimism or not. New technology always creates fear. America has always made the choice for excitement and going forward. He did agree that secret tagging should be illegal, but overall felt tagging had many benefits.

Yet concerns remain. Some business models are very invasive. Some companies are placing RFID tags into clothing labels and into shoes. One plan wants to plant RFID readers in cell phones so that when we are walking down the street and see someone wearing something we like, we can scan them and find out where the item is sold. Uibiquitous readers are planned so that the moment you walk into a store, a doorway reader can scan a tagged customer loyalty card and know your complete purchase history.

I see the benefits of RFID, however I'm certainly going to check out the security and privacy concerns.

Posted by Paul at 07:52 AM

May 03, 2006

Northern Exposure: Lessons From Canada?s National Privacy Law Regime

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) made a presentation on compliance with Canada's national privacy law at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference in Washington, D.C., this afternoon. A few quick notes:

CIPPIC just released a report finding widespread violations of Canada's privacy laws, though Canadian industry was on board for implementing the law in the first place because consumers were becoming increasingly nervous about online ecommerce and other activities.

The PIPEDA federal legislation began being phased in about six years ago. The act applies generally and provinces can enact their own legislation based on the act.

Companies must designate a chief privacy officer and must have a privacy policy. What information is collected and how is it used and disclosed? To whom is it disclosed? How can consumers access and correct information, because organizations are obliged to correct mistakes and share changes with other organizations it has shared data with. Companies may not require consent for supply of service, beyond what is reasonably necessary.

What happens if an organization doesn?t comply? Anyone can complain and privacy commissioners have broad investigatory powers. However, commissioners have no order-making powers and courts are the next recourse.

CIPPIC found widespread non-compliance. In a survey, several companies had no privacy policies. Over half could not name the person responsible for privacy. Overall, 70% of privacy policies failed to fully comply with PIPEDA.

Other data showed that 86% of companies that did share data did not say in their privacy policies who they share with. Over a third of companies did not respond at all to access requests. Only 21% fully complied.

Enforcement is key. Companies need incentives to comply. Market forces are not providing these incentives. The law needs teeth. Companies are still not complying after five years. There is no real risk of penalty for non-compliance. Companies know they will only be slapped on the wrist behind closed doors.

In the question period the difference between ?reasonable? and ?necessary? information came up. PIPEDA keeps talking about "reasonable" however Quebec legislation states "necessary," and "reasonable" is much more open to interpretation.

Posted by Paul at 11:55 AM

Senator Patrick Leahy Opens CFP 2006

Senator Patrick Leahy opened the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference by pointing to three key trends: a post 9/11 interest in security; a coming digital data micro-monitoring revolution; and a rapid post 9/11 rise of partnerships between government and private data collectors, and outsourcing of data collection and management.

He said there has been a blurring of lines of privacy protection. Private data agencies are becoming akin to mini CIAs. We face many risks, but we have to get the balance between security and privacy right. The public doesn?t want false assurances or to be unduly alarmed. We want to actually be safer, and we have a long way to go to accomplish that. New technologies shape the way we understand privacy. There have to be checks. Modern databases, networks are the defining challenge for privacy.

We are on the verge of a revolution in micro monitoring that can lead to widespread surveillance of our daily lives. Governments are increasingly using techology to monitor people. Nobody is above the law, you can?t pick and choose. The FBI has infiltrated groups across the country?religious, environmental, etc. Suppose you protest a tax policy, the building of a road, an environmental issue?should your group be infiltrated by your government? In the current environment, the Bill of Rights would not be ratified. Is this what we want to give our children? We should use info-gathering technology to protect ourselves, but there is no blanket right to spy on citizens.

We want to encourage innovation but ensure privacy.

The government is retroactively classifying data. This devotion to secrecy is often to conceal mistakes.

Technology is moving faster than we can predict. If we give up the rights we fought for in the Revolution, the Civil War, and two world wars, what are we going to leave for the next generation.

Posted by Paul at 06:44 AM

May 02, 2006

Walking Marathon in Beautiful Washington DC

We woke up on our first day in Washington at 7:30 am local time and got out and about around 9:00. The Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference that I'm here for starts tomorrow, so I had the full day with Yumi to get ourselves situated before I turned her loose on her own.

I'm going to put a bunch of photos at the end of this post, so if you're a visually oriented type and want to avoid all the blather, just scroll down :-).

We walked north across the Mall to the Old Post Office to try and find some breakfast in its food court. Along the way we noticed all the concrete planters placed for security since 9/11 and the armed guards everywhere. We encountered our first of many security checks when we entered the Old PO. I had stuff spread all over several pockets and had to pass through the scanner three or four times. The last item found was my Swiss Army knife, which the security woman perused, shrugged and handed back to me.

The food court in the magnificent hall was deserted, giving the place an eerie feel. We decided to go up the tower first and then get something to eat. I didn?t like the glass elevator, but felt fine at the top. There were magnificent views all around on the sunny, clear morning. We could see the Capitol, a chunk of the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian buildings. Great place to start our visit!

Back down at the food court a few places were beginning to come awake at 9:30. We got bacon and egg breakfasts for $3.49 ? a lot better than $12 for the same thing at the hotel.

Morning hunger pangs sated, we headed over to the White House. There was a crew digging up an area on the lawn, and I snapped a photo of a John Deere Gator with the White House in the background -- nice juxtaposition for a Saskatchewan boy!

It was gradually getting warmer as we ambled along toward the Vietnam War Memorial. As it came in view I began feeling somber. There were quite a few small Canadian flags left along the wall so it looked like a Canadian tour group had passed through recently. It was touching to see the photos and mementos left by people, and watch aged couples painstakingly page through the memorial books. Hard to believe there are over 50,000 names of the dead carved in that black granite.

Next stop was the Lincoln Memorial. It?s an impressive structure. The feeling of awe and respect was destroyed by herds of rowdy schoolchildren who were running around and shouting despite the signs asking for quiet. The view up the Mall was impressive and we thought of Forest Gump.

We trundled off to the Korean War Memorial and it was a somber and impressive monument. I found the statues of a unit on patrol powerfully evocative of the rigors of that often cold campaign. Both the Korean and Vietnam memorials didn?t yet exist the last time I was in Washington nearly 35 years ago.

Down around the Tidal Basin we began to flag a bit as lunch approached and the sun strengthened. The Roosevelt Memorial was impressive. I found the quotations thought-provoking. They seemed to call upon ideals that are not actually reflected much in contemporary American society. Wonderful words, but are they heeded? I found this to be a recurring thread throughout our long march today. Many monuments to many highly intelligent men who wrote compelling thoughts, yet the swarms of fat retirees and screaming schoolchildren kept intruding with their apparent lack of awareness and respect.

Oh well, it?s still a magnificent place and the Washington Monument commands the eye from every turn.

Next up, the Jefferson Memorial. Somehow it was not quite as impressive as the Lincoln, or even the modern Roosevelt. I wondered out loud what presidents since Roosevelt would ever be honored in such a manner. Likely none, or at least none that I would deem worthy.

By this time we were tired, so we headed back across the Mall to the food court in the Ronald Reagan Building. Security again. It was a relief to get out of the sun, eat and relax. We checked out the Washington Visitor Center in the same building and were not impressed. The woman there ignored us until we were leaving, and there appeared to be little free information available.

Somewhat refreshed and fully refueled, we trekked on to Ford's Theater and caught a presentation on the assassination of Lincoln. I could remember visiting the theater as a kid of 11 or 12. I think we saw a production of ?You?re a Good Man Charlie Brown? there, but I could be mixing that up. There is a museum in the basement of the theater. There is something macabre about the clothing worn by Lincoln the night he was shot and the pillow he died on, yet it is all strangely touching. Across the street is the house he was carried to and the bedroom he died in. The house is flanked by gaudy souvenir shops, fronted by raucous street vendors, and fumigated by the exhaust of idling tour buses. The parks staff seem dispirited and resigned to an endless stream of repetitive questions. Poor Abe.

That did it for us. Over seven hours of walking was enough. We dropped into a convenience store and picked up some drinks for the walk back to the hotel, and stumbled in, exhausted, at 4:30 pm.

I?ll do some blogging and some homework and Yumi will bone up on sights she?ll see tomorrow while I?m in sessions.

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Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial from the Old Post Office tower.

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John Deere on the White House lawn.

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Bird's nest in a traffic light near the Mall.

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Kids make rubbings of names on the Vietnam wall.

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Lincoln Memorial framed by trees.

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Yumi got me with Abe. There must be millions of photos like this one!

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The Korean War memorial patrol. Canada is among the UN nations honored.

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The two of us at the Tidal Basin with the ever-visible Washington Monument.

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Roosevelt Memorial bread line figures.

The quotation on the wall to the left deserves sharing: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

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Fishy humanoid gargoyle on Ohio Dr. bridge looks Jimmy Carter-ish :-)

Posted by Paul at 07:06 PM

May 01, 2006

Off to Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 in Washington, DC

We headed out to Washington, DC, where I'll take in the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference, along with some sightseeing. Yumi is tagging along.

We had a bit of excitement along the way in Toronto, where we changed planes. There was extra security on for flights into Washington's Reagan National Airport because of its close proximity to the center of government. We had to clear security again before entering the departure lounge, with all carry on baggage checked by hand.

We boarded the Embraer 175 and after awhile the captain came on the PA system and said there was a glitch with a computer and they would have to power down the entire plane and reboot it. It took about 90 seconds in darkness before they fired it back up. Then a few minutes later he came back on the PA with a command to deplane immediately and leave all personal belongings behind because a fuel truck near the plane was smoking. The plane was only about a third full so we scrambled off quickly.

After about 15 minutes back in the departure lounge, the captain said there had been an electrical problem on the fuel truck, and that the fire marshal had cleared us back onto the plane. An adventure to start the trip! We departed about 45 minutes late.

The ride in to Washington was spectacular in the dark with the major monuments and government buildings lit up. The approach to Reagan National provides an excellent view of the Mall, and you can see why they have the extra security for Reagan flights. It?s only seconds from the flight path to major sites. Yumi tried to snap a photo or two, but the turbulence resulted in smeared streaks of light.

The L?Enfant Plaza Hotel was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps it was a "4-star luxury" hotel 20 years ago? The TV in our bathroom is a tiny old thing, the toilet paper roll doesn?t stay seated, the furniture is somewhat "distressed" and there is generally a tired air about the rooms and hallways. The mini bar was not stocked, though I suspect that if it had been we would have avoided it anyway -- prices for room service and hotel restaurants are not encouraging for us hillbillies :-).

I was also disappointed to find that the hotel's wireless Internet access was not included but cost an extra $9.95/day or $24.95 for three days. I guess now that so many people are free from usurious hotel telephone charges, hotels are trying to make up the lost revenue in high-speed Internet access. Seeing as I have to do homework for my Royal Roads MA in Professional Communication course while I'm here and interact daily on online discussion boards, I had no choice but to cough up. Dial-up was an option, but it would have been irritatingly slow.

Posted by Paul at 11:52 PM